Marijuana legalization in Colorado, Lessons for Wyoming

What’s happened with marijuana legalization in Colorado?

As a criminal defense attorney who regularly represents persons accused of marijuana possession in Jackson Hole, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, I am watching Colorado’s experience with legalization closely.

I am not alone. Recently, I was at a legal conference where a prominent Casper criminal defense attorney spoke about his experiences defending drug crimes in Wyoming. He said that along the I-80 corridor, prosecutors and law enforcement do not vigorously prosecute marijuana possession. I was surprised by his comments because in my experience these charges are taken seriously. However, I mainly practice in northern Wyoming and Eastern Idaho. According to this defense attorney, the farther you are from Colorado, the more likely the prosecutors and law enforcement vigorously prosecute marijuana possession.

This got me thinking. What exactly is going on in Colorado? What do the people closest to Colorado know that we don’t?

The Colorado Department of Revenue recently released the first study of marijuana use following legalization.

Key findings:

  • About 485,000 people, or 9 percent of the State’s population, use marijuana at least once a month in the past year.
  • As part of that group, the top 20 percent of users (people who use daily) account for 67 percent (two thirds) of the total demand for marijuana.
  • Another 201,000 people, or 4 percent of the State’s population, use marijuana once in the past year.
  • These rare users (people who use less than once a month, and about one third of the people that use marijuana at all) account for less than 1 percent of the total demand for marijuana.
  • There is significant tourist demand for marijuana. The Department of Revenue estimates that 90 percent of the marijuana sales in tourist-driven mountain towns (think Breckenridge or Telluride) are to visitors. Further, 44 percent of the marijuana sales in the Denver metro area are to visitors.

From a Wyoming criminal defense point of view, here is what jumps out to me:

  • If you tell a trooper with the Wyoming Highway Patrol that you are coming from Telluride or Breckenridge, they’re going to think that you bought marijuana and try to search your vehicle. (Read my post on how to handle traffic stops).
  • A lot of people in Colorado are using marijuana. I am surprised by the high numbers. However, it looks like the sky hasn’t fallen.
Alex FreeburgMarijuana legalization in Colorado, Lessons for Wyoming